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ClassicsOnline Home » BARTOK, B.: Instrumental Music (Songs and Dances of Life) (Popovici, Nas, Ketler)
East European classical folk music for piano or violas
Bartok described folk songs as being perfect miniatures. Telemann said that in listening to a local bagpipe player at a village pub he heard a lifetime's worth of material. Western classical composers have always made extensive use of popular music, and this album delightfully demonstrates some of the ways that folk music can be developed into or provide inspiration for more complex compositions.
The album is divided between solo piano numbers and viola duets. All of the pieces are shorter than 4 minutes. Even so, they cover a range of musical approaches. In general the piano pieces are more highly "classicalized", with the original folkloric material (if any) being fairly hidden. These include four pieces by Liszt, an "Ungarische melodie" by Schubert, a piece by Janacek, and the 10 sections of Series I by Bartok, as well as compositions by lesser known (in the West) composers Martinescu, Comes and Vieru. Other pieces in the piano set (such as Bartok's Stick dance, Martinu's Fairy dance, and Comes' In the village) remain closer to their ethnic heritage. Diana Ketler does a fine job of presenting these diverse musical vignettes, equally at home with lively dance tunes and more contemplative or abstract numbers.
All but one of the viola duets are adapted from Bartok's 44 violin duos. These are short pieces directly based on traditional folk tunes, which Bartok adapted using various musical techniques to create unusual harmonies and a fantastic "modern" sound. They are idiosyncratic, no single theory can easily explain the composer's choices. Bartok's son Peter created a set of viola transcriptions, although it is not noted whether these are the ones employed in this album. The violists Razvan Popovici and Christian Nas make a valiant attempt at these duets. However, because they were originally written for violins there are some intrinsic problems for violas. The faster pieces fare well, but the slower numbers tend to drag, and although the recording quality is excellent, the lower registers of the violas don't quite capture the immediacy of folk music. The duets themselves are wonderful, and for an aficionado these viola versions are intriguing to compare with the violin originals, but the violas are probably not the best way to hear these pieces for the first time. Several recordings for violins as written are available. The violas do particularly well with Ligeti's Balada si joc (Ballad and Dance).more....
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